Wes Craven talks to Capone about 25/8, remakes, and the 'Cursed' experience of revisting old franchises!!
Published at: March 1, 2009, 1:23 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
How much do we have to say about Wes Craven? Do we need to say anything? The man has creeped and freaked us out for more than 35 years, beginning in 1972 with THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and continuing as the writer and/or director on such iconic works as THE HILLS HAVE EYES, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SWAMP THING, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, NEW NIGHTMARE, SCREAM 1-3, and 2005's RED EYE, which marked a suspenseful return to form for Craven who realized that the most terrifying monsters are the ones that are 100 percent human. His upcoming film, 25/8, has recently wrapped shooting and has a scheduled release of sometime next year. Craven returns to the themes of the offspring carrying on the sins of the father and of dead teenagers being the source of spectacular amounts of entertainment.
At Comic-Con, Craven premiered a two-minute clip from 25/8 that showed off his masterful use of suspense as one young man is stalked and chased down by a strange figure on a bridge. Now I've heard Craven explain he plot of 25/8 three times (one during the panel, once during a roundtable interview just before I spoke with him, and once to me), and I'm still not totally sure what the plot of this movie is. I'm sure it will all make sense when I see it, but all I care about is that 25/8 marks Craven's first original screenplay since his last turn behind the camera on an ELM STREET film, NEW NIGHTMARE, nearly 15 years ago.
During the aforementioned roundtable, about 15 journalists bombarded him with the same tired questions about what it would take to get him to return to the ELM STREET franchise, or what he thought of all of his older films getting remade. (During the FRIDAY THE 13TH relaunch panel just before Craven's, the production team stated in no uncertain terms that they were doing a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake at some point in the near future.) Craven is a master storyteller, and so hearing variations of the same inquiries was a huge disappointment. I was determined to ask him during our one-on-one interview a bit more about the new film, and dig a bit deeper into his state of mind about movie making in general. I hope you dig it. I've never met the man before, so this was a real treat for me, and he was a genuine pleasure to talk to. Oh, and consider this interview one big spoiler for the plot of 25/8. I'm not sure how much he's actually revealing here, but I'm not taking any chances. Consider yourself warned. Enjoy…
Capone: You said during the panel that 25/8 is your best work to date, or among your best. How so?
Wes Craven: Among my best, yes. It feels fresh and original, and we've got a great cast. It looks fabulous; we got a great DP, Petra Korner, who has THE WACKNESS coming out soon.
Capone: Actually, it's out already. It's funny you say that, because when I spoke to the director of THE WACKNESS, I made sure to mention to him how gorgeous the look of the film was, almost contrary to the harsh story being told. I couldn't believe how beautiful the film looked., almost other worldly.
WC: Yeah, we saw her reel, and just fell in love with it, so she was our shooter.
Capone: Are there reasons storywise why you think this is one of your best films? You haven't written a script in 14 years. Can you still read something you've just completed and say, "Wow, I've still got it."
WC: [laughs] I thought I had written something like that, and then people read it and got really, really excited. You know, I didn't know if I could write dialogue for kids, but everybody said to me that they loved the writing. "How did you do it? How do you know how kids talk?" And I said, "I just have them talk like me." I don't try to make them speak in any kid dialect, which I always think is so phony.
Capone: And doing that dates the film almost immediately.
WC: Yeah, in one year, it's dated.
Capone: I know you explained the story during the panel. We're talking about different timeframes here and various chronologies. What's going on in this film?
WC: The first act is the night of this man's discover and a confrontation with the police. He murders his wife, and she's virtually about to give birth to their son, and the son is rescued by the medics who come onto the scene. The second act starts on the 16th birthday of seven kids born that night. And this kid is kind of…well, his sister calls him a retard; he seems to be slow, totally innocent, doesn't know anything about the events. His [adopted] mother has kept him from it entirely. As the seven kids start to be targeted and attacked and everyone dies, he gets their attributes. So he kind of matures and turns into a man in the course of absorbing both the male and female elements of his closest friends. So he starts off a bit like Candide and ends up like Voltaire. [laughs] Everybody will know what I'm talking about now!
Capone: Wow, it's a good thing you didn't bring that up during the panel.
WC: So that's the concept, and I find it very interesting. And the actor, Max Thieriot, was just fabulous. He literally had to take on all the different qualities and change his character continuously depending on who had just died.
Capone: You said male and female victims?
WC: Yeah. I mean he doesn't start to mince around. The two female characters have individual personality traits, and he gets them as they die.
Capone: So it's not a mystery who his identity is? Or is the mystery whether the boy's father is still alive?
WC: The mystery is whether the father is alive or died that night, because he was shot and killed, but he was revived. But shortly after this on the way to the hospital, some events happen and the ambulance crashes right next to the river that runs through town, and the guy's body was never found. So they don't know whether he's alive or dead. Everybody assumes he's dead because he was practically comatose. But he could be alive, or he could be the evil persona in this man who has multiple personalities, or he could have gone into one of the seven children, or he could be the central character.
Capone: So this sounds much more based in the psychological world than anything you've done before. You could make a case that NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET tackles that a bit, but dealing with someone with six or seven personalities--that's pretty loaded.
WC: No, I think you're right, I think it is. One of the MTs [medical technicians] in the story is first-generation American from a Haitian family, and she tells the story of her grandmother saying, "You Americans talk about people with multiple personalities, but it's really people with multiple souls." And the cop says, "What's the difference really?" And she says, "Because when a man dies, the personality dies with him, but the soul goes on." So it does have that spiritual level to it in dealing with things that happened before people were born that they come into this life without knowing it. The only people who really know what was in the previous life and people seeking revenge, which is the killer, so they carry it over. It's their curse, they're captured by their hatred. We don't know where we came from, but there are things we bring with us. That's the concept, and that's really more a psychological thing than a spiritual one.
Capone: Is it easier for us to believe that a father who has these issues could somehow, even to a son he's never met, pass these qualities on?
WC: It's nature/nurture. No one has figured that one out, and it's been studied a lot. Some things seem to be passed on. Identical twins separated at birth, they have very similar qualities in certain areas. They do things that seem to be passed on from the parents just because we got half of their DNA.
Capone: You also mentioned during the panel that you produced a remake of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and that you've discovered some unknown director to make it. Tell me about that.
WC: Dennis Iliadis is his name. What we do with these remakes is we go exclusively to European directors because, well, I hate to say it, but it's because we can't afford a DGA [Directors Guild of America] director and pay the DGA rates. I'm a member of DGA and very grateful for what being a member guarantees me, but at our budgets we can't afford it. Dennis had done one film [HARDCORE], and it was kind of an art film, but it showed a talent for the dark side. It was about street prostitutes in Athens in their mid-teens. And it was really beautifully done, so Mary, who's the lead is played by Sara Paxton, her father is Tony Goldwyn, and the mother is Monica Potter. And her best friend is Martha MacIsaac. Krug is played by Garret Dillahunt and his son is Spencer Treat Clark, a kid who's about 15. His brother, who is the weasel character, is Aaron Paul, and Sadie is played by Riki Lindhome.
Capone: With 25/8, you gone with a young, largely unknown--with a couple of exceptions--cast that most people won't be familiar with. Do you find it's easier to work with lesser known actors than you did maybe with RED EYE where you've got some known actors?
WC: It's a fairly big cast, so the fact was that Bug, Max's character, is by far the lead. But I didn't want to have somebody that people would know really well. And we couldn't afford to hire a lot of kids that had a high price tag. Plus, I've found that if you can find a talent and recognize it, like a Johnny Depp or someone like that, the audience has no associations with that actor, there's no baggage that comes along with that person. So it's like, "Holy shit, this isn't an actor; this is this character." So in some ways it has much more of an authenticity to it. Denzel Whitaker's [from THE GREAT DEBATERS] sister is Shareeka Epps, she was in HALF NELSON and she's great. There's a detective character who's in both time periods played by Frank Grillo, his mother is played by Jessica Hecht [DAN IN REAL LIFE], who's been in a lot of films. The Haitian-American MT is played by Danai Jekesai Gurira; she was in a film recently called THE VISITOR about a guy who has an apartment in New York City…
Capone: Oh sure.
WC: She's the woman in the apartment. Who else? Zena Grey has been in a lot of Disney films when she was 12 and 13. Dr. Blake is Harris Yulin, who you probably know.
WC: And then there are all these kids. Denzel you know. John Magaro you probably don't know. Nick Lashaway hasn't done many films, and he's just incredible. Paulina Olszynski is practically right off the boat with her Eastern European mother. She's incredibly smart and funny, great comic timing. And this girl Emily Meade, who plays his sister, although it's not revealed that she's his sister until halfway through the second act. She's just incredibly beautiful. Oh my God. Every time people see her on film, they just gasp. Really. So we ended up with a really good cast.
Capone: You mentioned that part of making this film was putting yourself in an experimental situation of working with a crew that you've never worked with before. Why was that important?
WC: Totally new to me. For one thing, there was the practicality of it. I would have had to have waited because LAST HOUSE got going sooner than we did. They had most of the people that we usually work with, or other people that we usually work with were working on other films. So, I always think of Eric Clapton leaving The Yardbirds. Maybe there's something beyond that. I don't know. Almost everybody I'd been working with was someone I'd been working with for a long, long time. A lot of them--like my editor Patrick Lussier was seriously going into directing, so he wasn't available. We were going to have to shoot it in Connecticut, and in order to do that everybody had to basically come out of the New York-Connecticut area. So I was like, "I think this is going to be creatively really healthy to just go meet new people." My wife, this is the first time she's produced a picture, but she worked at Disney for years with people like M. Night and a lot of great directors, so I knew she could do it. We also had this guy [producer] Anthony Katagas, who has made five films in Connecticut, so it was like I knew we would be on solid ground. We might be uncomfortable the first week or so, but within a week we were all great.
Capone: I heard the big roundtable group inside asking you about whether you'd want to be involved in this remake or that remake, or whether you'd be interested in getting back into some of your franchises again. But it makes me wonder, are there certain films of yours that you look at and say, "Maybe not that one. Maybe you should leave that one alone." Like the panel right before you, the producer and director said they were signed on to do the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake with Michael Bay.
WC: Well yeah, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET very early on kind of went off, and the 10th anniversary one [NEW NIGHTMARE] was kind of [executive producer] Bob Shaye saying, "I'm sorry. We'd like one more, and we don't know how to do it and make it original. We know we've kind of ignored you, so why don't you come and do it." And that was great. And then they don't call you again for anything for years and years, so you just kind of have to write that one off, and say you made a good film, you made a studio get on its feet and prosper. But since you don't have creative control over it really, there isn't much reason to be going back or trying to go back to that well. As opposed to something like doing a remake of HILLS or LAST HOUSE, which my two partners did. And those contracts were that we owned those films after 30 years, and the joke is that we're still alive and now we own them. For the first time, if you make a film and make some money, you actually make some money. That's kind of nice when you reach my age [laughs]. It pays to live long.
There's been some initial contacts about SCREAM 4, but again, the CURSED experience was so screwed up. I mean, that went on for two-and-a-half years of my life for a film that wasn't anything close to what it should have been. And another film that I was about to shoot having the plug pulled, PULSE, so it was like…I did learn from the CURSED experience not to do something for money. They said, "We know you want to do another film, we'll pay you double." And we were 10 days from shooting, and I said fine. But I ended up working two-and-a-half years for double my fine, but I could have done two-and-a-half movies, and done movies that were out there making money. In general, I think it's not worth it and part of the reason my phone hasn't rung is that that story is pretty well known. If they can do something with Michael Bay, they'll knock something off and make a lot of money and won't have to put up with me [laughs].
Capone: And you can go do things like your PARIS, JE T'AIME short, which I loved, and it's so funny and tragic. And the fact that you got Alexander Payne to play Oscar Wilde…
WC: He came after me. I'd never met him. I didn't even know what he looked like, but he was great. He said, "I'd love to do it, and you can dub me. I know I can't sound Scottish" So we did. [laughs]
Capone: Well, thank you so much for talking to us.
WC: Yeah, this was good. [To the publicist] Capone can come back.